Oxwash: Adventures in Business
By Dave Land, posted 10 April 2018
Contact on twitter @justridethebike
Pushing the adventure theme beyond breaking point, we spoke to Kyle Grant, founder of Oxwash, PhD student and ex-NASA employee.
The first impression Kyle Grant makes is just how much he wants the world to be a better place. And how much he’s willing to take a part in that change. Even if this is in the seemingly innocuous world of laundry services. OxWash is Kyle’s first adventure into business, but JRtB suspects it will not be his last. From interning with NASA, to a PhD at Oxford, Kyle has already got a hefty range of experiences. Turning his weighty intellect to laundry was not, perhaps, the obvious career choice, but this drive to have impact is a defining feature of the young entrepreneur.
A clean sweep
But let’s deal with the basics first. OxWash is a laundry service, that operates throughout central Oxford. It collects, cleans and then returns your laundry. With the transport all done via cargo bike. It is the brainchild of Kyle Grant, PhD student.
Kyle is currently undertaking a PhD in synthetic biology. Specifically looking at cereal crop fertilising bacteria, at Wadham College, Oxford. He explains that this is great, but it will have an incremental impact, and he wanted to find something with more immediacy.
He spent the first two years of his undergraduate degree in Cardiff, up until he took an internship in Florida, then a one year job at the same place. The fact that place was NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre adds to the feeling that he is a motivated guy. He was researching astronauts gut activity in space. He finished his degree by writing a research paper from NASA and sending it to Cardiff.
He went to Kings College London for a Masters, before coming to Oxford for a PhD. A PhD that will, no doubt, have some considerable impacts for farming in the developing world. The PhD is slow (we agree!). This took him into the world of business startups. He wanted immediate impact, learning and skills. He took the classic route, find a problem, build a solution. Working through ideas such as a solar powered phone case, and fairy lights on elastic (?), he looked at the dire state of washing facilities in the Oxford Colleges.
Washing his hands
Laundry facilities in the colleges are, he says “not fit for purpose”. “Nobody was happy with it. It was broken, there are not enough machines, the colleges find them horribly expensive to maintain and service”.
He started with a Laundry App, running a bit like Deliveroo. But all the options to outsource the collection were corporate, clunky and van-based. “That was no good to me, I wanted to be part of the solution, not to add to the problem”. That’s when the bikes came in. “I thought we could leverage it off bikes, so I went to talk to Chris at Pedal and Post”. Pedal and Post are a last mile delivery provider, working on behalf of all the big courier companies, all deliveries by bike.
Cargo bikes for Washing
Despite the increased development in cargo bikes, no-one thought through cargo bikes for laundry, as they don’t have the volume. That was not Kyle’s thinking. “We use the Winston, which can take 30 loads, and is an off-the-shelf cargo bike from Urban Arrow”. “We tested other designs, including trikes, but this is the best we’ve found”. Kyle is looking at getting a ‘Tender’, again from Urban Arrow. “The Netherlands know how to make cargo bikes”. Kyle is fastidious in making sure they fit through bollards, “anywhere a normal bike can go legally, that’s where we want to be able to go”.
His ultimate goal is to take the logistics completely off grid. If he can get the right solar panels, then they will be on top of the box, charging the spare battery.
Whilst they started at the colleges, and continue to offer regular runs to and from there, they are also picking up sports teams, and increasing numbers of hospitality businesses. “They do want to make a difference as well, they aren’t just about the financial bottom line. They just haven’t had any choice before us”.
For the washing process, they looked at a range of different service providers, before going with one that’s been in the industry for 35 years. “They’re really progressive. They use products that are even better than Ecover, and we’ve been able to make lots of small movements, which are leading to a big shift”. They no longer use paper for orders, invoicing or logistics planning. They have rainwater reclamation and a solar power wash
DIY: for the web
JRtB are less surprised than we might have been to learn he built the online platform for Oxwash himself. He borrowed some source code, added some algorithms and patched the software; we nod sagely in response. Apparently this takes the list of drop offs and pick ups and delivers the best routes. He also taught himself graphic design, from there, the coding was really quick to learn, it was exciting.
Everything is operated through the website, from registration and sign in, to collection and delivery, payment and reviews. They deliver and pick up from discrete locations, not individual houses. Although you do have to hand the washing over yourself. “It’s all tagged, so you can track your bag online”. They don’t yet have a native app, but Kyle is turning his hand to app development. We don’t doubt it will be successful. He tells me that the App will be called Wash, so then it will be applicable in any city.
What happens next?
What’s next, is the inevitable question. “We’d like to get some full time riders on board, and a logistics manager, so I could do development, instead of management”. This is not quite what we mean.
“Oh, well…” he pauses, “... probably expansion. We have a cookie-cutter model, which we believe we can insert into other places. This year we’re looking at Warwick, Reading and Cambridge. With Durham, Bath and Bristol targeted for early 2019". These are some hilly places, we helpfully point out, the batteries need to have some real power by then. “The solar will solve that problem”, he says, like everything has been sorted. “I love problem solving”.
When he’s asked about competition; that a laundry service would be a tough one to trademark or copyright. He responds “We are all about quality”. Oxwash have a unique offer, they have relations with the colleges", Kyle built the system himself. “At the end of the day, we are in touch with the market. If the quality isn't right, we won’t go back to the customer until it is”.
Cycling all the way
We finish by talking about cycling. Kyle’s been cycling for years, is best friend was head of marketing for ‘that’ online cycling stores, his Dad restores old bikes. He grew up cycling around and across the Isle of Wight. He says it was a happy coincidence when he came to solve the problem, but he did make bikes a first thought
I ask him about what he loves about this strange combined world of PhD study, and running a startup. He talks about learning on the job, fixing problems on the go, everyday making loads and loads of mistakes, live problem solving. He ends by telling me a story of how he asked Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, a business question. Tim said his advice was very straightforward, I should find a business I resonate with; you are much more likely to succeed. It seems that once again, the Head of Apple was right. Kyle has done exactly what he said.
Image courtesy of Oxwash 2018
Credits: JRtB, 2018
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